I found the job of my dreams while vacationing on the cruise ship, Grand Princess.
I boarded the ship a bookkeeper for a Central California trucking company and disembarked a week later, with a new career path as a travel agent specializing in cruise vacations. Through a chance meeting, my favorite pastime was now my job. While I couldn’t believe my good luck at the time, in retrospect, this career had been knocking on my door for a long time.
My obsession with cruising had been building since my first cruise ship vacation with my husband, Dale, in 1979. But the cruise that changed my life came in 1998. In the 19 years between, Dale and I had only been able to take five cruises. But in the brief snatches of spare time between raising three children and working at the trucking company, I poured over cruise brochures and ship diagrams…it was my way to relax.
Before long, family and friends started coming to me for vacation advice. With a simple “Where’d you like to go?” I’d be off to my brochures, selecting the best cruise ship, the best cruise itinerary, pinpointing the exact cabin, best shore excursion and meal plan.
I took my task professionally, but I was only a de facto travel agent. I’d go to the local agent, armed with my facts and research, and sit next to her as she actually booked the cruise. Before long, I was calling the 800 numbers and booking the trips myself. Then I’d call my agent to tell her—you just booked a cruise. My new career wasn’t just calling me, it was screaming.
That all changed when Dale and I took Grand Princess on a cruise to the Caribbean during her inaugural year. I had followed Grand Princess since her genesis and I was dying to see her, the world’s biggest cruise ship at the time. We booked a year in advance and I busied myself during the wait on the Meet on Board chat rooms, talking with passengers who had booked the same voyage.
That’s when I connected with Susette Whitfield, a New Jersey travel agent. We got along very well, like kindred spirits, we were both obsessed with cruising, from the grand spectacle of the big ships down to the minutia of menus and wine lists. Susette had put together a large group of clients from her New Jersey/Pennsylvania base.
Grand Princess did not disappoint. She was magnificent. Dale and I met up with Susette and became “tag along” West Coasters to her group of more than 20. Together, Susette and I bonded as we traversed the large ship, exploring every inch.
Each night, our group would assemble for dinner and cheerful conversations. For Susette and I, the topic always seemed to be the cruise industry. We would talk and talk about everything cruising.
By night four of the cruise, Susette turned to me and said, “You’re working for me now.” In a moment, it all came together. I was officially her associate, the California arm of her travel agency. Now my family and friends would book through me. Then came their family and friends and my business grew exponentially.
Ever since that December 1998 cruise, Susette and I have worked together booking cruises and catching up on industry news and trends. In the process, we also became dear friends. Without fail every year, just as Susette did in 1998, we put together a group of travelers for a week with Princess on a Caribbean cruise.
Meeting Susette has brought professional fulfillment and a wonderful richness to my life. Dale and I have been on 33 cruises now, and I am as excited today about cruising as I was the day I found my new career on Grand Princess.
Kerry lives in Santa Maria, California and Susette in Woodbury, New Jersey. Both still work for the same travel agency. Together they take a large group on a cruise during the first week of December, usually to the Caribbean. This year will be their 16th annual group cruise.